No other social upheaval altered the landscape of popular culture more effectively than the MeToo movement. The explosion of experiences validated voices, carving out a distinct universe where power has lost the cover of impunity and actions have consequences; one where female rage occupies its rightful place and so does solidarity. Although never spelled out, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s Ladies and Gentlemen — an eight-part inconsistent series exploring the messy aftermath of workplace abuse — is rooted in such a world.
It begins with a day in the life of Sabila (Tasnia Farin in an evocative turn), a young dancer associated with a cultural organisation in Bangladesh. Her father is gradually losing his memory and she is struggling to make ends meet. Arif (Mostafa Monwar), her husband and colleague, suffers from a similar professional insecurity. She looks up to her boss Khairul Alom (Afzal Hossain), believing in his reassurance of providing her with job stability. Things, however, take a turn for the worse when Alom corners her in his office and assaults her. Not once but twice.
Such a premise opens up space to examine power dynamics in interpersonal relationships, assesses ways in which being revered offers a cloak of entitlement. In his digital directorial debut, Farooki shifts his gaze and dives headlong into the repercussions of such an incident. Having set his story in a work space, he spotlights how murky the path to institutional justice can be.
These are crucial if not groundbreaking ideas, their relevance highlighted with each similar occurrence. Ladies and Gentlemen is most engaging when it outlines the precarity of a woman while calling out someone in power, in underlining how high odds are stacked against her even when she is in the right. But mostly in touching upon the potency of female solidarity amidst all. There is a lovely wordless moment at the end of the third episode that conveys so much while doing so little.
But Farooki, who co-directed the series with Mahmudul Islam, casts his net wider, an act that starts out as ambitious but fizzles out soon. Ladies and Gentlemen shifts its gears dramatically by the end of the fourth episode. From building up to be a simmering evaluation of harassment, it morphs into a whodunnit, a turn so jarring that nothing adds up after this. As if to justify the move, Farooki introduces numerous subplots which end up as redundant additions, bloating the narrative and taking it farther from what it had started out to be. Take, for instance, the completely unnecessary characterisation of Alom’s driver and the detail with which it is conveyed. The investment and time with which this is depicted is meant to divert our attention but dulls our interest instead.
The intent, however, is novel. What the director seems to ask is in a world conditioned to view women as objects, do they possess the right as minimal as fighting their battles? Or are they forever doomed to be pieces men will be fighting over? But, this never takes off, partly for the heavy-handedness with which it is approached. By sidelining the woman from her own story, Ladies and Gentlemen falls into its own trap.
But the teething problem of Ladies and Gentlemen is its failure to recognise the potential of its format. Spread across eight episodes, almost 30 minutes each, the series plays out as three different films. Farooki, who returns to direction after four years, uses the horizontal legroom to stuff in more ideas without delving deep and resolving any one of them. As a result Ladies and Gentlemen promises a story but delivers a handful of ideas, each chasing the finishing line.
Ladies and Gentlemen is streaming on Zee 5